FROM A HIGH TOWER by Mercedes Lackey DAW, June 2016 ~ 4 Stars
Blurb: From a High Tower is the newest adventure in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, featuring a retelling of Rapunzel’s not-so-happily-ever-after ending.
Review: Book 11 in the Elemental Masters series showcases the “Rapunzel” fairytale detailing the adventures of Giselle, a born Air Master who is adopted as an infant by an Earth Master that some people label a witch. At 14, Giselle lives in a high tower, once part of an old abbey or convent. While she doesn’t have human companionship at times, she does have the sylphs – tiny winged women who offer conversation and friendship. This means Giselle doesn’t feel too lonely when her mother leaves to buy winter supplies in a distant town. It seems unlikely that before leaving, she didn’t warn Giselle there are more dangers than tramps and gypsies in the surrounding Black Forest and this becomes the first “bump” in the story.
The arrival of a charming young man, Johann Schmidt fascinates Giselle and she begins to realize how much she misses knowing her peers and having admirers. When he wants to visit her in the tower, the “Rapunzel” effect takes place although she doesn’t use her hair as a rope, but one that Johann provides. Again, she doesn’t question why he would bring a rope with him – it seems a contrivance – but he has an ulterior motive, one she is too innocent and naïve to suspect. Once he arrives in her room, he attempts to assault her and she comes into her own, calling up a powerful storm to defend herself until her mother arrives in time to help save her. This event launches Giselle’s training as an Air Master. At the age of 20, after the deathof her mother, Giselle is ready to support herself by winning shooting contests. Yes, she can control where the bullets go since she rules the Air and its elements.
It seems as if she can and does cope with any problems that arise during her adventures. Yet, another of the flaws in the story is the fact that she has a hidden enemy who is out of sight during the majority of the book. Instead of paying attention to this and the occasional feeling that someone stalks her, Giselle works at a traveling Wild West Show from America now touring Germany, honing her craft as a sharpshooter and an Air Master.
One of the elements from the “Rapunzel” fairytale is the fact that Giselle’s hair grows so quickly and she frequently cuts it, storing away the extra lengths. She isn’t sure if she actually believes what her mother said, that the rapid growth is a side-effect of her magick. It’s difficult to accept this since none of the Air Masters in the previous books in the series had similar characteristics and Giselle continues to deal with her “hair” issue as an adult.
The well-developed, ensemble cast includes Rosamund, an Earth Master from the previous book, Blood Red, a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood.” At the end of that story, we left her going to work as a “Hunt Master” who patrols the nasty sections of the Black Forest and takes care of any threats such as evil vampires, witches, bad werewolves, trolls and shapeshifters. Rosamund is perfectly capable of dealing with a crew of actors who are magical amateurs putting on a Wild West Show and she opts to go along to get along, hopefully protecting them from things that go bump in the proverbial night.
Each character has a story and Ms. Lackey provides good descriptions to make them come alive for the reader. Despite the great setting, and excellent dialogue, there are still plot-holes and missing details that may baffle readers. One would think that Giselle’s mother would have taught her adopted daughter not to judge by appearances. These early mistakes from childhood create ongoing problems throughout the book and all of these loose ends aren’t resolved, leaving readers who follow the series to wonder what will happen next.
An extremely skilled writer, Ms. Lackey ensures that the story flows and the pace never dulls. Perhaps, she will answer the questions raised in this book in the next Elemental Masters novel, or pardon the pun, they may be left up in the air. Readers can only wait and see. Of course, we’ll also have to wait to see which classic fairytale will be co-opted and retold in Ms. Lackey’s distinctive style.